At 77 years old, Valextra is the go-to brand for luxurious, handmade leather goods with elegant detailing and well-considered design. So you might assume the quintessentially Milanese institution would have little to do with laymen's tools and those workaday belts that hold them. We decided, however, that the carefully considered brand could handle an out-of-the-box task. So, inspired by the odd pairing, we asked Valextra to reinvent the slouchy, utilitarian tool belt for Wallpaper* Handmade's latest incarnation.
To help lend some much-needed creative flair to this most practical of items, we enlisted French designer Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, who told us, 'While discovering the brand, I was amazed at the great work they did.' He mentioned, in particular, the Compasso D'Oro award the company's '24 Ore' bag won at the inaugural ceremony in 1954. The bag was designed to fit the necessary items for a 24-hour trip and was so legendary, its Italian translation - ventiquattrore - was later adopted by the Italian dictionary as the definition of 'briefcase'.
Duchaufour-Lawrance's design for Valextra is at once sinuous and rigorous, combining the serious practicality of the subject with the sophisticated style of the brand. 'For me, Valextra is a very graphic, very sharp and edgy brand,' says Duchafour-Lawrance, 'so I wanted to find a way to replicate that with the belt.' The designer points out how he incorporated signature Valextra elements like 'costa' black edging and V-shaped cuts, into the belt. 'I was trying to be a little bit Valextra in the way that everything is sophisticated but sharp and simple,' explains the designer.
The designer's survey belt is a hybrid of a purely functional tool holder with a carrier for essential items like an iPhone, notebook and stationery. The piece was made in Valextra's signature soft calfskin, with rhodium details and contrast stitching. Duchaufour-Lawrance and the Valextra craftsmen selected four colour combinations using classic shades from the brand's library.
For the French designer, this was essentially a fashion brief. 'It went that way naturally, because of the way they are working and because of the leather they use.' Yet the design still bears some strictly utilitarian elements. 'When I was thinking about my design for this toolbelt, I asked myself, "What do you do with it when you're not using it?"' To wit, he devised a detachable buckle that can be hung up when not in use.
As for the shape of the belt, that was inspired by birds on a wire, a curiously poetic reference for an item with such industrial purpose. 'My idea was to do something you can really use but that's also nice to see - not something purely functional,' says the designer. 'Form doesn't always follow function. And in this case, form also exists as pure form.'